ROCK HILL — After serving as provost of the religious community known as the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri for 25 of the past 35 years, Oratorian Father Joseph A. Wahl is stepping down. The provost is the superior of the congregation.
“Every so often it’s good to have a change, and I’m delighted with this one,” Father Wahl said.
He still serves as vicar of the Deputy Congregation, the administrative body of The Oratory, and he made it clear that “I am not retiring.”
He arrived at the Oratory in Rock Hill in 1947; that makes him the senior member of the community in terms of longevity, according to Oratorian Brother David Boone. Father Wahl’s brothers Edward and Richard, both Oratorian priests and now deceased, were also members of the same community.
A young Joe Wahl took his priestly formation under the auspices of The Oratory and was ordained in 1956. Since then, he has served the Rock Hill community in a variety of ministries, including that of parish priest, seminary professor and retreat leader. He is currently sacramental priest at St. Mary in Rock Hill and rector of the Church of Our Lady and St. Philip Neri on the Oratory campus on Charlotte Road.
Members of The Oratory community, now numbering seven priests, five brothers and three seminarians, are mostly engaged in parish work in nearby churches, Brother Boone said.
Father Wahl, despite his seniority, is no exception. On Saturday, Feb. 14, for instance, he was the spiritual director for a Cursillo weekend at Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin, and then celebrated the 5:15 Mass at St. John Neumann in Columbia. The priest is also active as a Diocese of Charleston official, serving as director of the Institute for Parish Leadership Development.
For all his varied ministries, however, Father Wahl has been anchored in one home — The Oratory — all of his adult years. Oratorians remain in one community all their lives so that they can establish long-term bonds with the people they serve. The outgoing provost likes that concept.
“I have always appreciated being a member of a family, living my life in one place,” Father Wahl said. “And I always appreciated how The Oratory matched my gifts with the needs that existed. I have felt fulfilled in my years as an Oratorian. …”
The Oratory was established in South Carolina in 1934. At that time, Catholics made up less than one percent of the population in the region. St. Philip Neri founded the congregation in 1575 in Rome. Philip Neri is known as the saint of joy and his philosophy still governs the Oratory congregations. Members do not take vows of poverty and chastity and obedience, as do other orders, but members freely follow them. Members stay in one Oratory community and each Oratory is autonomous, without a central government for the entire congregation. Each community is governed democratically and members elect their provost for a three-year term. Father John Giuliani was elected to succeed Father Wahl for the next three years.